Back to the Future: Season 1
Stupid time-traveling. Just the other day my brain had to yet again churn over the concept in Terminator 2: that Skynet and its robot horde would not have existed if it didn't send a robot back to a time before it did exist. That makes my gray matter slap itself repeatedly, probably because time is the "fourth" dimension and we can only really operate in three. Introduce some chaos beyond that and you have a cascade of events, changing everything in the future. One would think that nobody understood this better than Marty McFly, arguably the most time-traveled person in the history of the world. Yet he still manages to go back in time and mess it up. But he fixes it too — what else would you be doing in Back to the Future: The Game?
Telltale is the lone island of episodic adventure games — point-and-click sagas that emerge one chapter at a time each month. Back to the Future started in December, which we reviewed, and has since completed its run. It all started with rescuing Doc Brown, the mad scientist who built a time-travelling sports car which enables all this timeline wrangling. Caught in a 1930s jail, he has to be sprung by Marty. But something is inevitably changed and when they return to 1985 (the present year of the movies), things are right. As always it will fall upon Marty to save the day, but in this epic things get very convoluted with mobsters, totalitarian societies and even Doc fighting against Marty to stop the progress of science — Great Scott!
Analysis: The difficulty of Telltale's adventure games vary, but Back to the Future would comfortably sit in the easier bracket. While the season dishes up some crafty puzzles, it is not out to make you suffer for the story. In fact, at times the game seems a bit too keen on talking to characters and appears lax to roll out the puzzles. After a big splash with the first episode, which was terrific, the season stumbled a bit with the second chapter. Then it became a bit too story-focused with chapter three, but here things also pick up pace. Using that momentum, the fourth and fifth chapters bring it all together very nicely — some sharp challenges and a few fun twists ultimately delivers a really entertaining story.
It is harder to say if this series will appeal to someone who has never seen the original movie series. It doesn't rely on knowledge of the movie trilogy and fan references mostly fall away by the second episode, making this very much its own story. But because Back to the Future always takes place in the same town, just in different eras or time lines, Marty revisits some places (like the town square) a lot — as in every single of the five episodes. Each episode also has its own new areas, but the core of it all maintains a bit of a familiar feel. If you aren't invested in the fates of Marty and the Doc, this might start feeling a bit tedious. And much of that interest, at least for me, came from my enjoyment of the original trilogy. While the game does a sterling job staying away from relying on arcane canon knowledge from the series, it is still a part of Back to the Future.
Putting the story and characters aside for a moment, this season has a fair amount of fun adventure gameplay in it. A hint system makes it easy to get ahead, but puzzles are rarely that infuriating. There are moments of frustration, especially when you have to keep repeating a sequence to figure out what you are doing wrong. But this is not the toughest series Telltale has made. A large amount of time is also spent on story — if you prefer your adventure games to be solitary endeavors with little exposition, Back to the Future might disappoint. Likewise, if you are holding out for a large variety of locations, as with Telltale's Sam & Max or Monkey Island games, this will fall short.
But within the confines of the Back to the Future universe, the game works very well. Getting Christopher Lloyd (and, for the final episode, Michael J. Fox) for the main voices is great and the writing is respectful of the series without lathering it with fan drool. Like any 'season' there are a few missteps and stumbles. I wasn't a fan of the clumsy inventory system and at times there just seemed to be too much pointless dialog. But it all plays out well, creating an epic adventure that is worthy to be counted alongside the original three movies. It certainly gives high hopes for when Telltale releases the first episode of Jurassic Park.